Book Cover "The Origin & Evolution of the National Military Park Idea" by Ronald F. Lee 1973




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Later Evolution of the National Military Park Idea





Shiloh and Vicksburg

The story of the preservation of the battlefields of Shiloh and Vicksburg may now be told rather quickly. Unlike Gettysburg and Chickamauga which for many years were officially named National Parks, Shiloh and Vicksburg were called National Military Parks from the beginning.

Representative David Bremner Henderson of Iowa was the father of the legislation for Shiloh. Born in Old Deer, Scotland, in 1840, he emigrated with his parents to America in 1846. In 1861 he enlisted in the Union Army and soon became a first lieutenant with the 12th Iowa Infantry. He was wounded in the neck at Fort Donelson and in the left leg at Corinth near Shiloh -- so severely that part of his leg had to be amputated. Nevertheless he was able to re-enter the Army in 1864 in command of the 46th Iowa Volunteers. After the war, he entered the practice of law in Dubuque, Iowa, was elected to Congress in 1882, and served for ten consecutive terms. In 1889 and again in 1901 he was the unanimous choice of his party for Speaker of the House. In addition to this high office, his most distinguished services in Congress were in behalf of the veterans of the Civil War and their widows and orphans, for whom he sought and secured pensions. [64]

On March 30, 1894, Representative Henderson introduced H.R. 6499 to establish a national military park at the battlefield of Shiloh. The import of this bill can be best gained from the statement of purpose in the opening section: "that in order that the armies of the southwest which served in the Civil War, like their comrades of the eastern armies at Gettysburg and those of the central west at Chickamauga, may have the history of one of their memorable battles preserved on the ground where they fought, the battlefield of hereby declared to be a national military park...." [65] The favorable report of the House Committee on Military Affairs, submitted June 22, 1894, clearly documented the character of those western armies. Troops from eleven Union States, principally midwestern, fought at Shiloh. Representative Henderson's State of Iowa alone furnished eleven regiments of infantry, while Kentucky furnished twelve, Indiana seventeen, Ohio twenty-four and Illinois twenty-seven. Ten Confederate States were also represented at Shiloh, including nine infantry regiments from Mississippi, eleven each from Arkansas and Louisiana, twelve from Alabama, and twenty-eight from Tennessee. The total number of troops engaged was between 90,000 and 100,000, and the losses were severe. In brief, the committee reported, "the bill appropriates $150,000 to make a national park out of what is now almost an unsightly tract of land upon which was fought one of the most important and deadly battles during the war of the rebellion." [66] The bill contained provisions nearly identical with Chickamauga for land acquisition, preservation and marking of battle lines, leases to property owners, and State participation. For the first time, however, the Shiloh law clearly spelled out that two of the Commissioners should have served in the Union Army and one in the Confederate forces. Amended to reduce the authorization of funds to $75,000, the bill passed the House and Senate promptly and was signed by President Grover Cleveland on December 27, 1894.

Because Congress had already authorized Shiloh battlefield to commemorate the armies of the Southwest, a special case had to be made for Vicksburg. Representative Thomas Clendenen Catchings of Mississippi took the lead, first introducing a park bill in January 1896. When it failed to pass, although favorably reported by committee, he re-introduced the bill in the next Congress in December 1897. Representative Catchings was a native of Mississippi, had served in the Confederate Army throughout the war, and entered the practice of law in Vicksburg in 1866. After holding State offices, he was elected to Congress in 1885 and served eight consecutive terms to 1901. [67]

In reporting favorably on Representative Catchings' bill in March 1898, the House Committee on Military Affairs set forth the case for Vicksburg as seen in Congress. The purpose of the bill was "to convert into a national military park the historic ground in and near.. .Vicksburg upon which occurred the most prominent operations of the Union and Confederate armies during the investment, siege, and defense of that city." [68] On this historic ground were extensive military works including forts, redoubts and entrenchments. By acquiring a strip of land, approximately 3-1/2 miles long but only 1/2 mile wide and embracing about 1,200 acres, the most important features of the engagement could be preserved. It was estimated that only $40,000 would be needed for land acquisition and $25,000 for development. The proposed boundaries and the estimated cost had the approval of the Secretary of War and also of the association of Union and Confederate veterans who participated in the siege and defense. The bill was similar to that for Chickamauga National Park but the cost was very much less.

"The campaign of General Grant, which terminated in the capitulation of the 'Gibraltar of the South,'" reported the Committee, "was not only one of the most remarkable of that war but has been justly assigned a place among those affording the greatest interest to the student of the military history of the past." [69] Vicksburg had been recognized by generals on both sides as the key to the opening of the Mississippi River, with immense consequences for the outcome of the war. Quoting Volume 24 of the Official Records, which had been only recently published, the Committee referred to statements by General Halleck of the Union Army and General Pemberton of the Confederate forces. Halleck had written Grant "in my opinion the opening of the Mississippi River will be to us of more advantage than the capture of forty Richmonds.... It is the most important operation of the war." Pemberton had said: "The evacuation of Vicksburg! It meant the loss of the valuable stores and munitions of war collected for its defense, the fall of Port Hudson, the surrender of the Mississippi River, and the severance of the Confederacy." These views, said the committee, had since been amply confirmed by the judgment of the best generals and historians of the Civil War. [70]

The case for Vicksburg did not rely alone upon its historical importance, however; widespread public support had been mobilized for the measure. The legislatures of twelve States had memorialized Congress for the establishment of the park. The Grand Army of the Republic had endorsed the proposal at three successive national encampments in 1895, 1896, and 1897; department encampments in sixteen States had added their approval. The measure also had the support of General John B. Gordon on behalf of the United Confederate Veterans' Association. The Committee on Military Affairs confidently recommended the bill to the favorable consideration of the House. [71]

This confidence was not misplaced. The House passed the bill on February 6, 1899; four days later the Senate followed suit; and on February 21, 1899, it was signed by President William McKinley and became law.

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The First Battlefield Parks - pgs
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